Ardaga Widor has been a journalist, ship cook, one-man industrial assembling firm, teacher … in more than just four corners of Mother Earth. He quotes the Portuguese poet and pantheist Teixeira de Pascoais who said: “A man is everything he has seen and every person he has met in his life.” Ardaga is a thus a genuine One World man. Today he’s mostly engaged in the hands-on striving for (social) justice and the empowerment of cultural diversity. He also works in the field of tourism.
A part of the world Ardaga is well acquainted with is Brazil and the challenges faced by the Indigenous peoples. What follows is an email interview with Ardaga.
Kim Petersen: Apparently, deforestation is on the rise again in the Amazon. Traditionally much of it has been illegal and much of it has been to the detriment of Indigenous peoples, including uncontacted peoples. Why do you think deforestation has accelerated, and how can forestry be carried out sustainably in Brazil?
Ardaga Widor: I would like to start by affirming that Brazil is not the Amazon. Brazil is much bigger and diverse than that. And it is a problem that almost everyone outside of the country (and many within!) keep their focus on the Amazon region only. Because destruction business in the other big ecosystems (Caatinga, Cerrado, Atlantic rainforest, Pantanais, Pampas…) works=destroys and profits even faster.
Deforestation, thus, is always rising. All over Brazil. And apart from the politricksters’ number games. Since agribusiness, mineral extraction companies, and energy and construction business giants will not stop either before the last idle wilderness is turned into something useful (I of course use their language here) or the people who are robbed, brutalized and driven out of their areas will stand up and fight. Something people always have done. And mostly paid with their lives. Chico Mendes, Dorothy Stang and innumerous other, often indigenous people. What needs to be achieved in order to create a new situation is concerted efforts to stop this murderous and world-devastating economic bulldozer model behind all the destruction, misery, genocide and ecological extinction.
Yet, we are very far from that aim. While agribusiness, via their lobby – the ruralistas – control virtually ALL “political” parties and consequently all relevant decisions at government and/or legislative levels and work as a strong (destructive) unit, their victims have no lobby at all. Trees and animals and rivers have no voice and no lawyer, and the human victims, indigenous communities, quilombolas, extrativistas, self-sufficient fisher(wo)men villages are unprepared for such an encounter. Unprepared, divided, manipulated, and quite some corrupted (leaders). On one side you have the most powerful and economically vigorous interests of Brazil and the corporative world united, and on the other Brazil’s traditional and all-time “untouchables” mostly atomized and divided. Tribalism in such a situation certainly helps the enemies. The advance of the ethno- and genocide machine.
Recent governments (Lula and especially Dilma) work hard FOR the objectives of the destruction business. Soya exports and other commodities stand for positive numbers on statistical papers. Sacrosanct God Growth. And it is a fact that Brazil wouldn’t grow at all (economically) if it wasn’t for the heavily supported agribusiness. Even laws are changed in favour of the destruction business. Because it brings the favourable numbers. On papers. Necessary for the next elections. Nobody gives a damn for Nature, Indigenous Peoples or the future. Brazilian culture is the extreme present. Now. What happened yesterday nobody remembers (or wants to know) and tomorrow is too far away to think about it or anyways in God’s hands…
Thus we burn and cut the forests down today. Every day. And as long as the football show and soap operas (novelas) go on – the national free opium for the masses – and neither the beer nor the fuel price rise above reach for the ordinary citizen I don’t see much possibility for the necessary radical change. The one towards sustainable, Native style: Live WITH Mother Nature and not AGAINST her.
Just to give you an idea of the efficient work of the agribusiness propaganda machine (oozing out their lies on a daily basis via the mass media). Although the biggest part of Brazil’s Northeastern region is undergoing its most severe draught and desertification because of wrong agricultural practice with horrible consequences above everything for small subsistence farmers who lost everything and are, additionally, indebted you may not easily identify yourself in that (or any other) region as an “environmentalist”. Hate speech is the least you have to expect to harvest…
Finally one observation on “uncontacted peoples”. There are none. It’s yellow press stories which periodically appear. (When no suicide bombing maimed dozens in Iraq, no trigger and gun happy lunatic stormed into a US college, and no heir to the English throne was born or kidnapped…, and consequently space is left in the mass media.)
Another factor to serve stories of uncontacted or isolated groups are “marketing reasons”. What’s true is that there are very few and very
small bands of indigenous people who saw what happened while and especially after contact with the macro-culture and consequently chose to evade it. As good and as long as possible. Such groups exist in Brazil (and that’s also the case of a few Awas in northern Maranhão who had to retreat because they were chased to kill by invaders of their legal territory), Paraguay, Peru, Papua-New Guinea… And who knows, maybe in (soon) Canada too?
KP: Uncontacted — no, but Indigenous peoples being killed by invaders is true for “Canada” — in history and in present day. I reviewed a superbly researched book in August about the genocide perpetrated in Territory of the 27 Nations (called “British Columbia,” in colonial parlance) by Tom Swanky, The True Story of Canada’s “War” of Extermination on the Pacific, and currently I am reading Kerry Coast’s The Colonial Present: The Rule of Ignorance and the Role of Law in British Columbia.
AW: If you belong to the powerful in Brazil you don’t have to care whether your activities are legal or not. And to avoid international criticism illegal deforestation will “decrease” drastically. Not, of course, because the devastation industry will be persecuted. But because protective laws, whether for Nature or for Indigenous Peoples, are being weakened more and more.
KP: The Belo Monte dam is a controversial $13-billion mega-hydroelectric project in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest that was halted by a court order (later overturned on a technicality) because the consortium Norte Energia was in abeyance of its environmental commitments. The dam is projected to flood 500-square kilometers of the Xingu river basin, displacing about 16,000 people of 18 different ethnic groups, including the Juruna, Xikrín, Arara, Xipaia, Kuruaya, Parakanã, Araweté, and Kayapó. The environmental consequences include reducing the Xingu River water flow by 80 percent in the Volta Grande (Big Bend) area, where Indigenous people depend on the river for their livelihood. How does this speak to Brazil’s adherence to the Declaration of Rights of Indigenous peoples, and what does it say to the attitudes of the Brazilian-in-the-street for Indigenous peoples?
AW: Firstly, the Belo Monte dam is just the forerunner of many (dozens) more to come. It is a priority project of the current power constellation to transform the Amazon region, like all other regions, into something useful. Kind of a giant energy production park. And useful in the neoliberal understanding-twist means highly profitable for a handful of already astronomically rich. And when we say profitable we do not refer to the functioning after construction, of course. Because most likely not much will function once construction-destruction will be finished. Since throughout many months of the year, during dry season, there simply won’t be enough water flowing to produce anything (but hunger among the fish-depending riverside communities) and since it is a Brazilian reality that freshly built streets crack before inauguration (due to rampaging corruption and cheating and stealing before and during construction).
Brazil doesn’t need any more power plants. Not even to feed their highly devastative aluminum industry (the real and only objective of the Belo Monte dam) placed shrewdly in the Amazon region. Where they can destroy the environment and the health of local communities far from public and media focus. Brazil only would need to do maintenance of what it’s already got. Yet, planning, organization and maintenance go as realistically well with Brazil, as human rights do with the CIA (or Putin) and/or social equality with the Tea Party (or parties, plural, around the world). Here the objective is always rushing through mega-constructions. The higher the (artificially provoked) time pressure, the lesser any kind of possible control, the higher the profits of those who control the stealing and cheating businesses.
You mentioned Eletronorte. A classic example. In the hands of the godfather of the (Brazilian) North: Senate president and former president of the country José Sarney. We do not have space enough here to “explain” this figure, books have been written on him, like “Honoráveis Bandidos” (Honourable bandits) by Palmério Dória, but it is a common saying that it only rains in Maranhão, Sarney’s home feud where his daughter rules as “elected” gouvernor, when he wants it to. Or, in simple English: Sarney has got what Al Capone and Rupert Murdoch together have never achieved: O-v-e-r-a-l-l power. Such players can do a-n-y-thing in our country. Nobody stops or even slows them down (much less the current government which is heavily relying on him). And will never face justice. Plus: Belo Monte is just the tip of an iceberg in Sarney’s destructive interest that made it into world media. (Yet again, we don’t have the space here…)
And it’s not “only ” the Indigenous locals who are affected and whose rights are trampled. It’s ALL the locals. Altamira has become a town like the boomtowns in the goldrush era. The population has multiplied over night. Thousands of poor men with nothing to lose have come in search for jobs (and small gangster opportunities). Get heavily exploited (if they find a job). And exploit even poorer locals. Violence has become rampant. Young girls’ prostitution has become another logical consequence in such circumstances. And everything embedded in a medieval infrastructure that already didn’t function before the desperate masses from other Brazilian provinces pulled in. Makeshift areas in a sea of shit and urine. Dante’s hell live. Yet, nothing of that is important to the government, Sarney and/or the other Brazilian and international giants like Odebrecht and Andritz involved. And the very few local persons who dare to speak the truth are under constant threat. That even applies to international celebrities like the winner of the alternative peace prize Bishop Kräutler. Who can’t move without bodyguards in Brazil anymore.
The only ones who could stop the project to transform the entire Amazon region into an energy production park (and commodities production zone) are the Indigenous Peoples of this vast area. Yet, they would have to speak AND ACT with one voice and power. Backed up by ALL indigenous sisters and brothers of Brazil and the ONE WORLD. And that doesn’t happen until now. Unfortunately. Partly because bribing and “presents” for local leaders is part of the everyday practice by such mega-destructive projects profiteers. And partly because isolationist and tribalist attitudes are strong (and fostered by the powerful).
And if there is any state economy that profits by Belo Monte or any other big building project in Brazil it’s the one of the Cayman Islands, of the Inner City of London, of Liechtenstein, etc.
You ask “How does this speak to Brazil’s adherence to the Declaration of Rights of Indigenous peoples, and what does it say to the attitudes of the Brazilian-in-the-street for Indigenous peoples?” How does Harper’s acting apply? How do the US world activities apply to international laws? Nobody in the power world gives a damn what’s legally right or wrong. And they can do so, because nobody of “the commons” (we, you and I and our neighbours and friends) stand up and act anymore. Brainwashed, turned socially autistic by manipulative processes and neoliberally infested educational institutions and mass-media, we are caught in our dread to maybe lose some piece of our good life if we stand up. And fight back. Most of the people I know (in Brazil) declare that they are against Belo Monte. Yet, what do they DO against it…?
KP: Staying on the topic of energy production, this time the dirtier sort, Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff flip flopped and auctioned off the offshore Libra Oil Field. One bid was received from a consortium of Brazilian oil company Petrobrás with CNPC and CNOOC from China, Royal Dutch Shell from Netherlands, and Total from France. The consortium’s obligation to the state is 15 billion reals, which be applied to paying the public debt. Furthermore, the consortium must also pay an $8 billion bonus, said to represent only 0.01 percent of the potential richness of Libra field. How do Brazilians feel about selling off natural resources to foreign interests, and how do they feel about how any monies accrued will be allocated by Rousseff’s administration?
AW: Most of our people think of nothing but football, soap operas and the next little thing to buy and the next party to come. And even the minority who still manages a) to think beyond and b) to come to own conclusions like the millions who were out in the big cities’ streets in June meanwhile seems intimidated and controlled again. Through massive media efforts to discredit “violent protests” and “violent protesters”. Instead of to-the-bone-violent and corrupt governments and “security” forces which secure, in the first place, the tranquil robbing of the people and the obscene but characteristic socio-economical national status quo.
We are talking of an achieved result through strong efforts by the power top to not emancipate the people socially and cognitively but merely in a small consumerist one-way. Keep them thought numb and doped, is the motto. (Or bread and games, for the more Romanized.) Essentially not too different, I reckon, from Canada or any place in SUCH a globalized (or, rather, monopolized) world.
And when it comes to power politricks I think nobody here doubts that (much if not most of) the money will go into the bottomless swamp of our “political” parties and/or the money laundering system of the above-mentioned bank-state units (Cayman, London inner city, Channel islands, Liechtenstein…).
KP: Rousseff’s administration also came in for widespread opposition among ordinary Brazilians for raising bus rates on inferior services while spending extravagantly on sports stadiums for sports extravaganzas like the 2014 World Cup of soccer and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Rousseff eventually back off the bus fare hikes and promised oil revenues to be committed to services such as transportation and health. Are Brazilians placated by the fare reduction and promise to finance improved services, especially given that Rousseff is no longer committing oil revenues to services?
- AW: These protests were not “only” against the highest public transport fares of the world (many workers literally can’t afford to go to work!) neither against Dilma. Nor could she “back off the bus fare hikes” since they are under the control of local mafia joint ventures of municipal administrators and (bus) firms. They (the protests) were against a rotten “political” caste that includes all parties and all politicians de facto incapable of everything but lying, wasting and stealing. But it’s “funny” that Dilma was harvesting the uprising overture of our century-long doped people who dared a step beyond hibernation. Since her (and Lula’s) party, the PT, once stood with two banners in loud opposition throughout the years:
land reform and fighting corruption. Yet, the very day they were voted into power, because of their two banners, these banners disappeared and nobody has seen them ever since… Now the PT, in their eleventh year of federal government, cries foul play because some of their mafia exponents were found guilty and condemned recently while the big and traditional “political” gangsters from the (right wing) establishment enjoy a life in freedom and richness without having to fear prosecution. At least inside Brazil.
Football World Cup and Olympics are useful to keep the people doped (chauvinistically exited) and apart from that correspond to our kleptomaniac plutocrats’ expectations. Many gigantic constructions under time pressure stand for easy stealing of billions (see, for the “rest”, above).
KP: Rousseff probably received a political respite when Edward Snowden released documents that indicated the NSA was spying on her and Brazilians. How much influence does the United States wield in Brazil today?
AW: Not even Obama has a clue, I fear. Maybe someone in the NSA? But the US syndicate of lethal agribusiness (Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Cargill, etc. and neoliberally streamlined thinktanks, universities and individuals in their service) work very closely with the Brazilian branch, the REAL (yet shadow) government in our country. For comprehensive information I may suggest that you feed your search machine with Blairo Maggi and Kátia Abreu. Two of the most powerful and notoriously outstanding Ruralistas of contemporary Brazil. And both winners of the award of the “Motoserra de Ouro” (golden chainsaw) for their relentless efforts to rid Brazil of its forests and to dismantle forest protective legislation. Heavily assisted in this venture by the governmental PCdoB. The so-called communist party of Brazil. When it comes to destruction of nature=life for the short-sighted profit of a few “alpha”-people and an endlösung for those capable of living in Nature without harming much less destroying her, the neoliberal capitalist right and the Stalinist left are best companions. Truly exotic Brazil? No, the world saw a similar alliance before. In 20th century History.
KP: Brazil is notorious for its slums called favelas which are rife with poverty, crime, police brutality, and insecurity. Amnesty International is sanguine about the future, however, because of a campaign to empower favela residents to challenge the police and claim their rights. It seems to me that is only part of the problem. Empowerment stems from not just the right to personal security but more so from financial security, the the need for jobs to provide for food, decent housing along with education and health care. Are positive changes afoot for favelas and the people who live there?
AW: Favelas, a denomination that goes back to the Canudos massacre about which Euclides da Cunha and also Mario Vargas Llosa have written prose, are simple worker neighbourhoods. They once started as bairros africanos. The African neighbourhoods. Former slaves who had managed to buy their freedom first, but especially after 1888, when Abolition turned slave exploration into total abandonment. Thus most of the now “free” former slaves, who managed to get there in the first place, concentrated in the hills (morros) around the actual city. They (favelas) are a visible and continuous tradition of social and race-based (although the very concept of races lacks of any scientific base) apartheid in Brazil. Run by plutocracies which manage to keep Brazil socially down as one of the most unjust countries in the world. Third from bottom these days. And on the literally other side of the coin Brazil is today the sixth economy in the world. So where do you think does all the money=power concentrate and continue to flow to?
Because of all the above-mentioned the worker neighbourhoods, mostly unskilled and informal workers that is, have a darker complexion. Compared to the other parts of town. And in Brazil if you are a young male Black, your chances to get killed violently are four times higher than that of a white teenage boy. So there is a violence problem in the favelas. Like in all other parts of Brazilian society too. But additionally to the “civil violence” in the poor and segregated neighbourhoods what’s often worse is police brutality. That includes the “Pacifying Units” too.
If you really want to get a picture about rampant and intrinsic violence in our country, and you mentioned them in your question, read the Amnesty International reports. In my opinion the one and only trustworthy source (if you can’t talk personally with people who live here). So favelas are places where people like you and me and most of the world’s population live. Their inhabitants have their work, their dreams, their worries and problems. But unlike in other economically (kept) poor areas in other countries which get services and assistance from the state, our “waste-people” zones (gente-de-gastar, a word creation by the late and very read-worthy ethnologist Darcy Ribeiro) have only one regular contact with the state: routine police brutality.
All that together is also a great niche in the mercantilist and predator capitalist system. Gangs led by drug business men often take the vacuum of the state. And “rule & control”. Yet, the vast majority of the favelados are worker folk. Trying to survive with a little dignity. Not easy I assure you.
There cannot be any personal security in a favela. As long the whole system is not uprooted. The global macro-system, capitalism, and the regional micro-system, the kleptomaniac dynasties euphemistically called “governments” and “legislative” which plunder in their own and their rich buddies favour. And cause unknown numbers of deaths since unlawfully wasted public money could have bought the medicine in any old public hospital where everything is missing and people die laying on the corridor floors. In such a vile and lucrative system, who’s on the comfortable top, certainly doesn’t want change. And education would be the beginning of the change. So it doesn’t surprise that Brazil continues to be very low in world’s rankings when it comes to education. And I cannot see anyone or any group within the current electoral democracy regime that could and would bring real change.
In the favelas, there is no change neither. Much less a positive one. What goes on and goes euphemized into the media is a social cleansing and cosmetic uplifting because of the upcoming millionaires spectacle events. The Football Nations World Cup and the Olympic Games. Plus (last not least): The majority of the favelas is not ruled by “classic bandits”. The majority is under control of milicianos (gangs made up mainly of police and retired police and military personnel). A real development over the last two, three years or so, is the rise of fires which destroy favelas. But just those favelas which are situated in an area that interests the powerful and the petro and car industries, construction business, supermarkets…
A comprehensive change one day might come. But that doesn’t depend on the administrators of our complex apartheid. That depends on the favelados themselves. The Power of the People. Including the many thousands of indigenous favelados. At present Brazil’s urban indigenous population is as big as the other part that lives in the Terras Indígenas.